How Much Does It Cost to Pass the Bar and Get a Job?

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on January 11, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It should come as no surprise that law school is expensive. There's pretty much no way anyone can sign up for a J.D. these days without hearing plenty of horror stories about student debt in advance.

But, it turns out that if you want more than just a degree, you'll have to start paying up even more. A new look at ABA numbers shows that schools with the highest bar passage rates and best employment numbers command a hefty premium, charging about 20 percent more in tuition. As they say, "the rich get richer and the rest get stuck with expensive bar exam tutors and temporary doc review gigs."

Want to Pass the Bar?

If you want to be an Esq. and not just a J.D., you'd be wise to attend a school that consistently produces bar passing grads. But you'll have to pay extra for the privilege.

Kyle McEntee, executive director of Law School Transparency, looked at the ABA disclosures from December and found that students at schools with higher bar passage rates paid significantly more in tuition than students in lower performing programs.

Here's how it breaks down, according to McEntee, who explained his findings in a recent Above the Law piece:

  • At private schools with bar passage rates above 80 percent, students pay an average of $47,231 in annual tuition.
  • For schools with passage rates between 80 and 67 percent, students pay an average of $41,477.
  • For schools where less than 67 percent pass the bar, students pay an average of $41,944 -- over $5,000 less than the best performing schools, but slightly higher than the middle tier.

The "pay to pass" pattern is maintained across private and public universities as well, though public law schools still cost dramatically less:

  • Public law schools with pass rates above 80 percent charge, on average, $27,638 per student.
  • For those at 80 to 67 percent, it's $22,596.
  • At the poorest performing tier, students pay an average of $16,245.

But if you really want to know the cost of passing the bar, you should add a few thousand dollars in bar prep costs and exam fees (or two or three times the normal exam fees, for those who don't get through on the first go.) That can easily increase the cost an extra $4,000 or more.

Want to Get a Job?

Employment seems to have an even greater effect on law school price than bar passage rate. McEntee found that:

  • Average tuition at private schools with the highest employment numbers -- more than 80 percent placement in full-time, long-term, JD-required jobs -- was $51,468.
  • Where only 80 to 67 percent of grads were employed in good jobs, tuition was $42,924.
  • Where under a third of grads are employed, tuition drops to $41,802.

Again, the pattern is the same for public schools, which cost $31,592, $23,131, and $20,496 for highest, mid, and lowest employment numbers respectively.

In one way, the numbers make sense. Students are willing to pay top dollar for top schools.

But that's not the whole story. When schools start underperforming, graduating classes with low bar passage and employment rates, they don't pay as significantly of a price. In fact, the lowest performing private schools still charge more than their mid-tier competitors.

"What we can be sure of is that law school is still too expensive and that prospective students are till turning away in large numbers," McEntee writes. "We can also be sure that continuing tuition increases demonstrate just how dysfunctional the law school market remains, despite increased transparency."

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